Illicit drug overdoses on the rise in the South Okanagan in 2017 | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Illicit drug overdoses on the rise in the South Okanagan in 2017

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October 31, 2017 - 8:00 PM

PENTICTON - The South Okanagan has not been excluded from the opioid crisis in B.C., but due to privacy concerns, the exact statistics can't be released.

There have not been any recent or sudden spikes in overdoses from the use of illicit drugs Penticton, according to an email from Interior Health public health epidemiologist Gillian Frosst.

So far this year there has been an overall trend of increasing ambulance dispatches for illegal drug overdoses, emergency department visits for opioid overdoses and increasing drug overdose deaths across the Okanagan.

Frosst says both Penticton and Princeton have seen significant increases in illicit drug overdose deaths in 2017 compared to 2016, but can't reveal the stats.

“Due to small numbers and confidentiality risks, we are unable to release the exact numbers of deaths from these communities,” she says in the email.

It's the same story for the statistics provided by the B.C. Coroners Service. It says overdose deaths are not broken down by municipalities when the number of deaths is less than five per month, due to protection and privacy issues.

Interior Health can provide the numbers of emergency room visits though.

From Jan. 1 to Oct. 29 this year, Penticton Regional Hospital reported 123 emergency department visits related to illicit opioid overdoses, while South Okanagan General Hospital in Oliver reported 14 and Princeton General Hospital reported nine during the same period.

“These emergency department visits represent those suspected opioid overdoses that presented at the hospital and were reported, but they do not represent all overdoses that occur in the community,” Frosst says.

A wide range of substances can lead to an overdose given the variety of fentanyl-contaminated illicit drugs, she says.

Interior Health is seeing a large number of overdoses following heroin, cocaine or crack cocaine use. Frosst notes at least one third of those attending an emergency department for an opioid overdose report using more than one substance.

Statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service indicate fentanyl is the number one relevant drug detected in illicit drug overdoses deaths in the past two years in the province, at just over 64 per cent, with cocaine at close to 48 per cent of overdose deaths. More than one relevant drug could be involved in an overdose death, which results in percentages adding up to more than 100 per cent.

Interior Health recommends not using drugs as the best way to avoid overdose, but those who continue to use illegal drugs should follow these recommendations to reduce the risk of overdose:

  • Don’t take drugs alone
  • Arrange to have someone check on you
  • Keep an eye out for friends
  • Carry a Naloxone kit and understand how to use it
  • Don’t mix drugs
  • Do testers to check the strength of the drug by taking a small sample
  • Recognize the signs of overdose

For more information on substance use go to Interior Health's website here.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Steve Arstad or call 250-488-3065 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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